Timestamp #121: Black Orchid

Doctor Who: Black Orchid
(2 episodes, s19e17-e18, 1982)

Timestamp 121 Black Orchid

 

It’s more like Doctor Who and the Case of the Missing Drama.

The TARDIS materializes in 1925 at the Cranleigh Halt rail station through a really well-done effects sequence. Tegan is finally onboard with traveling with the Doctor, and the two non-Terran companions learn what a rail station is. A chauffeur gathers the travelers, claiming that the Doctor was expected, and drives them to a cricket match.

Our heroes meet Lord Charles Cranleigh, who joins the chauffeur in staring mouth agape at Nyssa, and the Doctor justifies his wardrobe by winning a cricket match. Tegan is really into it, but Nyssa and Adric (along with this humble watcher) have no idea what’s going on. Regardless, the Doctor’s stellar performance earns them a trip to the house to meet the rest of the family (“Doctor who?“). They also meet Lord Cranleigh’s fiancée, Ann Talbot, who is the spitting image of Nyssa.

Spoiler: It’s a convenient plot point that never warrants an explanation.

Tegan takes notice of a black orchid in a display case, which stands as a memorial to the Lady Cranleigh’s missing son George, an explorer and botanist. Ann was to marry George, but after his disappearance, she was engaged to Charles. The group finish their cocktails (or lack thereof for Nyssa and Adric) and retire to their rooms to prepare for the night’s costume ball. During all of this, a mysterious figure in gentleman’s attire unties himself and skulks about, eventually stealing the Doctor’s party costume and trapping the Time Lord in the house’s secret passageways.

We also learn at pointed (and pretty much useless) bit of information about the Nyssa-Ann pair: One of them has a mole on their shoulder. They use the circumstances to dress in identical costumes as a joke.

Adric, on the other hand, wears his badge for mathematical excellence on his costume. Because of course, he does.

The festivities proceed as the Doctor explores the house and its secrets, but the mysterious figure arrives at the party and invites Ann to dance. They end up back inside the house, and the stranger attacks Ann and kills a servant. After Ann faints, the stranger puts her in a bed and returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. At this point, we finally see his disfigured face.

The Doctor discovers a body in a cupboard, then encounters Lady Cranleigh and her servant Latoni, an Amazonian with a stretched lip. After seeing the dead body, everyone agrees to keep the whole affair silent. The lady and Latoni then go to the room containing Ann; the young woman races to Lady Cranleigh (believing it all to be a dream) while Latoni gathers a length of rope to detain the stranger.

Lady Cranleigh and Ann converge at the site of the murdered servant at the same time as the Doctor, and the Time Lord is framed for the murder and assault. The Doctor attempts to prove his innocence with the hidden body, but the cupboard is now empty. The Doctor’s inadvertent cover story is blown as the (medical) doctor the family was expecting calls with his regrets, and the Time Lord is taken into custody. He asks the police sergeant to stop at the rail station to show everyone a vital piece of evidence, but the TARDIS is missing. Once the group arrives at the police station, they discover the TARDIS (a police box that no key will open), and everyone piles in, casting light on the Doctor’s story.

At the house, the mysterious stranger breaks free of his bonds, strangles Latoni, and sets fire to the room’s door. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the manor as Ann learns a disturbing truth. We have it confirmed minutes later as Lady Cranleigh admits that the stranger is really George. He was caught in the Amazon and cut apart by a tribe for disrupting their sacred black orchids, but was rescued by Latoni’s tribe and returned home. Unfortunately, George bursts into the parlor and kidnaps Nyssa, set on being with his former fiancée. The Doctor and Charles rush to the rescue, and when all is said and done, Nyssa is saved and George is killed by accident.

After the funeral, in gratitude for everything the travelers have done, the Cranleigh family give the companions their fancy dresses from the party. They also give the Doctor a gift in George Cranleigh’s book, Black Orchid.

On the upside, the plot moved quickly with little filler. On the downside, it was utterly predictable once the orchid and George’s disappearance were laid out. After that, it became a somewhat painful short story that played on a train car full of Doctor Who tropes. It had no drama and no tension. It was just there.

What saves this serial is the acting and characters. While the Doctor was pretty much relegated to the background, the companions stole the show: Adric’s typical annoyance was nowhere to be found; Tegan was enjoying herself; and Sarah Sutton got a chance to really shine in a dual role, which she played as two individual characters with distinct styles. I’m seriously in awe of her range and skills after this story.

On a sad note, this is the last of the historical (non-science fiction/fantasy) serials in classic Who.

All told, Black Orchid really benefits from rounding up.

 

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Timestamp Special #4: The Thirteenth Doctor

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #120: The Visitation

Doctor Who: The Visitation
(4 episodes, s19e13-e16, 1982)

Timestamp 120 The Visitation

 

The franchise takes a step up with a couple of reset buttons.

Some 300 years before Tegan’s final destination, the adventure opens on a scene dressed straight out of The Three Musketeers. A light show like a hundred shooting stars decorates the sky, but the single witness is dismissed by her father. And then the murders begin.

Approaching at the scene at the speed of time, the Doctor (thankfully) chastises Adric over his actions on Deva Loka and Nyssa helps Tegan prepare to leave as they will surely reach Heathrow this time. Unfortunately, they don’t, and this revelation prompts Tegan to furiously storm out of the TARDIS.

The team finds a group of people burning sulfur and are attacked. During the altercation, Adric drops his homing device before twisting his ankle, and as they run they find a highwayman named Mace who takes them to sanctuary. He tells the tale of the previous night’s comet, and the Doctor puts the clues together: A prisoner control bracelet and a handful of power packs point to alien survivors. The Doctor leads a search of the nearby manor, which was the setting of the opening scene. During the search, the Doctor is separated from Mace and the companions, and when he disappears behind a wall, they are trapped behind a door locked from the other side by one of the aliens. The Doctor rescues them by revealing the trick: The wall is a holographic energy barrier. The travelers explore the cellar, which contains caged rats, soliton gas, and the visitor. Tegan and Adric are stunned by its beam, but Nyssa, Mace, and the Doctor escape.

The Doctor recognizes the visitor as an android, as the trio plans a rescue, another being interrogates the captives. This lizard-like creature with an obvious rubber mask interrogates the companions about the Doctor, a man he recognizes as being not from this time and place. It uses the local villagers, whom it has fitted with the control bracelets, to apprehend the trio as our heroes explore the crashed spacecraft. Based on the machine, the Doctor recognizes the survivor as a Terileptil, and the trio escapes the craft through a back door. The Doctor sends Nyssa ahead while he and Mace search the nearby mill.

Tegan engineers an escape for her and Adric, but sacrifices her liberty so the boy can flee the manor. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mace find a group of free villagers, but they mistake Mace’s crystal for the “plague” that has affected their neighbors and order the odd couple’s execution. The execution is stayed by the village leader, who is also under the Terileptil’s control. Coincidentally, so is Tegan with the application of a control bracelet.

Adric arrives at the TARDIS and reluctantly (and petulantly) helps Nyssa set up the sonic device. Adric later leaves the TARDIS to search for the Doctor, but is captured by the Terileptil’s gang. In the mill, the Doctor and Mace free the village leader and a villager from their bracelets, but the villagers collapse. Luckily, it sends a signal to the Terileptil, and the lizard orders the android to fetch them. When the villagers awaken, their control is mistaken for witchcraft. As the villagers build a fire to burn their demons, the android arrives as the Grim Reaper and frightens them all away.

The Doctor and Mace are escorted to the cellar, where Tegan is laboring away on vials of chemicals and they are introduced to the Terileptil. The lizard reveals that he plans to commit genocide and take over the planet. Mace is fitted with a bracelet, the Doctor is placed in isolation, and the sonic screwdriver is destroyed. The Doctor’s “old friend” has been killed.

The Terileptil plans to use a genetically engineered plague to destroy humanity with rats. It leaves the Doctor in the cell with the controlled Mace and Tegan to loose infected rats on him, heading for London where he plans to begin the massacre. The Doctor disables both bracelets and frees the humans, and Mace tries to pick the lock before the Doctor shoots (!) the lock with Mace’s firearm. They search the lab but come up empty.

The android finds Adric and the gang, scaring the bandits away before following Adric to the TARDIS.  The android enters TARDIS but is destroyed thanks to Nyssa’s sonic device. Nyssa and Adric move the TARDIS to the house, and the Doctor uses the scanner (after a jab at Adric’s dense questions and a bit of “Dad” reasoning for Tegan) to locate the Terileptil. They arrive at a London bakery and encounter all three Terileptils. A fight and a fire break out, and the heat causes the Terileptil weapon to overload. The resulting explosion destroys the bakery in a blazing inferno, which proves the perfect crucible for the plague serum. The travelers depart, leaving Mace to fight the fire, and the Doctor muses about the historical implications of this adventure: He just started the Great Fire of London, even though he previously denied any involvement.

So, it’s also a (partially) historical serial, which we haven’t seen for 15 years. That’s minor reset #1.

Minor reset #2 is the destruction of the sonic screwdriver. It’s been 14 years since it was introduced by the Second Doctor, and even though future Doctors seem to simply regenerate the device when they lose one, this loss is more semi-permanent. It will be interesting to see the Doctor working without it just like the First (and partially Second) incarnation.

Character-wise, this is a major step up from the last few adventures. I am happy to see the Doctor and Nyssa working well together, and equally happy to see Tegan and Nyssa both prove their worth against Adric’s continued disparagement. Tegan is still upset about not getting home, which is understandable, but she’s not being crippled by this. Instead of being a detracting characteristic, it’s a defining one. The Doctor himself continues to be a patient fatherly character, both in disciplining and guiding his companions.

Finally, Mace was a fun secondary character who left no scenery unchewed.

Overall, it was a fun adventure that, despite minor quibbles with the creature practicals, kept me engaged for the duration.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Black Orchid

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #119: Kinda

Doctor Who: Kinda
(4 episodes, s19e09-e12, 1982)

Timestamp 119 Kinda

After the last story, this was probably not the best time to shelve my favorite companion of these three.

At the outset, Nyssa’s not feeling well, so the TARDIS has settled on a jungle planet to evaluate her. Based on the results, the Doctor puts her into a coma to recover from not being included in the script. The planet is currently home to a team of explorers. They’ve taken captives and several of their own are missing. They are the perfect model of military tropes in fiction.

The Doctor, Tegan, and Adric explore the planet and come across a set of well-designed wind chimes, prompting the Doctor to consider intelligent life and civilization in the area. The chimes place Tegan into a hypnotic trance, and the Doctor is pulled away by Adric who stumbles into an armored suit. After Adric fiddles with device – and, thankfully, the Doctor chastises the impulsive boy – it takes them hostage and leads them to the explorer camp.

The Kinda – pronounced like the German for child, not the slang short-form for kind of – decorate Tegan with flowers while she sleeps, and her trance leads her to two figures playing chess. She fearfully explores the black void, noting that all of the inhabitants have the same snake tattoo on their arms. Meanwhile, the Doctor gets the backstory from the explorers and examines the hostages. The expedition scientist, Todd, believes them to be primitive but telepathic, and she explains their plans for the paradise world. They are interrupted by Hindle, current second in command, who tears apart the lab in a temper tantrum before playing Narcissus in the mirror.

The expedition commander, Sanders, makes plans to look for the missing team members. In the lab, Hindle has somehow taken leadership over the two Kinda, and as Sanders departs, Hindle and his new friends take over the outpost by force. Sanders takes the powered armor to the Kinda village, where a blind shaman named Panna and her acolyte Karuna plan to give a box to the approaching colonial soldier. They are visited by a Kinda male named Aris, the brother of one of the captives, and we learn that the males are mute and the women are not. The Kinda male leaves as Sanders approaches, and the gift of the box overcomes the commander with psychic force.

In the outpost control room, Hindle has dressed the Kinda captives in colonial uniforms. The captives release the Doctor, Adric, and Todd, who then have a ridiculous discussion with an unhinged Hindle. Hindle wants to sterilize a fifty-mile radius around their camp, using acid and fire to protect themselves from hostile plants. Adric has some sort of epiphany and volunteers to help Hindle, but since the Doctor and Todd won’t join him, they are sent back to their cell. To his benefit, Adric begins a plan to double-cross Hindle, but he is caught.

Are we in the throes of another story about the evils of colonialism? Looks like. I’m also picking up shades of Apocalypse Now.

On the other side of the looking glass, Tegan continues her mental breakdown in the void. She argues with duplicates of herself, then with the mysterious taunting figure, before agreeing to give the figure material form to be released from captivity. She awakens in the real world with the snake tattoo on her arm, a mischievous grin on her face, and about 10,000 more skill points in Charisma.

Hindle deliberates how to punish Adric for the boy’s treachery, but is interrupted by Sanders, who has returned with a completely different, almost childlike character. Sanders offers the box to Hindle, but Hindle refuses to open it. Out in the forest, Aris encounters Tegan. Tegan introduces herself as Mara, and in a moment of Star Trek V Sybok psychology, she transfers the snake and consciousness to Aris.

Hindle puts the Doctor and Todd back in the cell, this time with Sanders and the box. Hindle orders the Doctor to open the box, and when he does, Todd screams. It’s an overly-dramatic gesture as the box only contains a spring loaded puppet. Well, that and a psychic encounter for the captive group, in which the Doctor and Todd commune with the Kinda. The Doctor and Todd leave the compound and head for the source of the summons. They are met by the Kinda and develop a rapport with the easy-going people, but are soon interrupted by Mara-Aris who proclaims that the “Not-We” must be taken captive. Karuna attempts to read his mind and is convinced by an ancient prophecy that Mara-Aris is their new leader. Karuna defies the prophecy and takes the Doctor and Todd to Panna.

In the compound, Hindle plots to destroy the dome and surrounding jungle to protect themselves through death. Adric bides his time by playing along, but finds it difficult due to Hindle’s increasing instability. He eventually defies Hindle and takes the armor for a walk. At her cave, Panna examines Todd, but is surprised by the Doctor’s presence. Apparently, a male cannot open the box without being driven insane unless he is an idiot. Thus, the Doctor is an idiot (with a box, and a screwdriver).

Mara-Aris arrives with his enthralled gaggle of Kinda, and after taking control of Karuna, he takes the group to destroy the dome and the Not-We. Panna and the Doctor discuss the snake tattoo and the Mara, and they join with Todd in a psychic link. After their vision of the destruction of the Kinda and everything, they awaken to find Panna dead. Karuna senses this and breaks from the rushing Kinda to return to the cave. Once there, she reveals that Panna’s spirit has been transferred to Karuna. Together, the trio sets out to stop Mara-Aris. En route, they find Tegan and discover what she did to free the Mara.

Everyone converges at the entrance to the dome. The Kinda gaggle attack Adric in the armor, but Adric inadvertently drives them away with a panicked operation of the machine. The Doctor frees Adric from the machine, and Mara-Aris takes the opportunity to run away. The protagonists enter the dome and confront Hindle, who has constructed a city out of cardboard boxes. The madman reveals that he controls the Kinda with mirrors, which they believe steal their souls. The Doctor takes a wrong step and Hindle snaps, nearly destroying the dome, but in the fracas, the mirror is broken, Todd gains control of the explosive trigger, and Hindle gets the box and an awakening.

Of course, Adric takes the opportunity to blame Tegan for all of this. One step forward with his attempt to stop Hindle, and now one step back again. I mean, this was a “Shut up, Wesley” moment, and I actually liked Wesley Crusher.

With Hindle’s threat disarmed, the Doctor sets a trap for Mara-Aris using large mirrors, forcing the Mara free the Kinda. The snake grows in size and nearly takes control of Tegan before finally dissipates, dispelled back to its prison. Hindle and Sanders are returned to their former states, and Todd submits a recommendation that the planet is unsuitable for colonization. The travelers (including Nyssa, who has recovered from her bout of being forgotten in the script) bid farewell to a too-green paradise.

On its face, this was a story of the evils of imperial colonization mixed with a strong pinch of the supernatural, which would have been just about average given how often Doctor Who dips into that particular well. The dragging anchor on this boat is the character issues. Adric got somewhat better, save for his need to touch everything and chastise Tegan. Tegan spent the majority of the story spinning her wheels in character impotence. And Nyssa? Poor Nyssa got caught between a poorly timed script and the character problems of the Nineteenth Series so far.

This story even has a large dose of mythology, ranging from Buddhist and Old Testament Biblical to superstitions shared by tribal cultures around the world, and science fiction that opens audiences to the myths that shaped humanity usually wins me over. I’m just so irritated with how the writer’s room is wronging the companions in these opening salvos of the Fifth Doctor’s run.

The thing that helps buoy it back up is the Doctor. He’s selflessly compassionate and innocent like a couple of incarnations before him, but he’s not as duplicitous as past lives. Instead of trying to pass off the failed sleight-of-hand with Adric and the computer card, which the Third and Fourth Doctors would have used to lure Hindle into a trap, the Fifth Doctor realizes that he cannot win and abandons the effort, saving himself for a better chance.

The Fifth is also far more patient and fatherly. It’s taken a few serials to see that, but now that he’s mostly baked, it’s easy to see a paternal hand guiding Tegan’s temper and Adric’s impulsiveness.

The Doctor himself may be what saves his fifth incarnation’s run for me.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Visitation

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #118: Four to Doomsday

Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday
(4 episodes, s19e05-e08, 1982)

Timestamp 118 Four to Doomsday

 

This time, I begin to wonder if the Doctor would be better off without companions.

After a long, elegant, establishing shot of a starship model that might make Admiral Kirk drool, the story turns to our heroes as the TARDIS materializes with a bong. Despite the apparent perks of knowing the TARDIS has stopped, I have two questions: First, how long has that bong been around, and second, how soon will it go away?

The Doctor is trying to return Tegan to Heathrow Airport but a magnetic field shift has dragged them off course.  In a move that would have deeply upset his first incarnation, the Doctor takes a quick stroll (with a funny helmet) to check things out in lieu of using the scanners. As he pokes about, a floating robot watches him, feeding information to a hidden watcher. The Doctor, always savvy, knows that he’s being surveilled.

Tegan is eager to leave because Heathrow awaits, prompting Adric to turn on his charm. And by charm, I mean a blatant display of sexism (“That’s the trouble with women: Mindless, impatient, and bossy.”) and ageism (Nyssa’s only a girl, so Adric’s sexism can’t possibly apply to her, right?). The Doctor returns to the TARDIS (just before anyone (including me) can load the wunderkind into the nearest airlock) and gathers the team so they can go exploring. Tegan almost decides to stay behind, but refuses to give Adric the responsibility/power of holding the spare TARDIS key.

The team all don the crazy “space-pack” helmets and off they go: Nyssa is enthralled with the tech and the Doctor examines the surveillance robot. When a door opens, the Doctor takes Tegan (and both TARDIS keys) to explore the rest of the ship, leaving a temperamental Adric to watch over Nyssa.

Was it being stuck in the metaphorical fridge during the last adventure, Adric? Was that what made you so annoying this time?

The Doctor and Tegan arrive in the presence of three beings: The Monarch, Enlightenment, and Persuasion. They are beings from Urbanka, from a distant galaxy than our own, and are familiar with Earth having been there 2,500 years prior. As they discuss Earth fashion in Tegan’s time, Adric leaves Nyssa for a brief moment and the Trakenite disappears. A panicked Adric takes this news to the Doctor, and the trio leave the Urbankans for a dining room where they find their wayward companion.

The Monarch investigates the TARDIS, but is dissuaded when he cannot pick the lock. Meanwhile, the travelers are joined by an ancient Greek man, an Aborigine, a Mayan, and a Mandarin, all representing their various cultures from various points in human history. They are soon joined by two humanoids, dressed in clothing similar to the sketch that Tegan provided to the Urbankans, who bring word that the travelers are invited to complete the voyage to Earth with them on the ship. Shockingly, they identify themselves as Enlightenment and Persuasion.

Over the meal, the Urbanakans reveal their mission: They are traveling to Earth on a mission of resettlement, carrying three billion survivors after their planet was destroyed. After the meal, the travelers are shown to their quarters where the Doctor defeats the Monarch’s surveillance before discussing their situation. They deduce that the Urbankans have visited Earth four times, each time taking a sample of the human species and making the 4,000 year round trip. This trip is the last, presumably to settle on the planet.

The Doctor breaks the lock on their quarters with his sonic screwdriver, and the team explores the ship. Tegan and the Doctor are separated from Adric and Nyssa, are each pair discovers groups of humans built from members of each of the four representative’s cultures. One room houses a series of cultural demonstrations, a second a hydroponics bay, and a third a cold computing room with minimal oxygen and entranced workers with strange discs on their hands. Adric and Nyssa find another room where a Greek soldier who was mortally wounded during the cultural display is miraculously healed, but they are soon taken captive by the Monarch.

The Greek representative, Bigon, summons the Doctor and Tegan with the promise of information, and they converge on the travelers’ quarters. The philosopher explains that the Doctor’s estimated timetables are off: Each time the Urbankans have visited Earth, their voyage has sped up. He also reveals that they only living matter on the ship (presumably, excluding our heroes) is that in the plant nurseries. The tribes of humans are, in reality, all androids.

Both teams of travelers learn this secret from separate sources. A select few of the androids (including the Urbankans) operate independently in both body and mind, but those with the discs only have motive power. Nyssa and Bigon call those units slaves, but the Monarch rejects this. He is trying to save humanity from their mortality, after all. Bigon foresees human extinction through strip-mining of the planet, but Adric buys into the vision of peace, prosperity, and replacement body parts. The boy is also downright rude to Nyssa, rejecting her opinion as silly and immature.

Adric, showing off as the smartest boy in the room, unwittingly explains all of the Doctor’s secrets to the Urbankans, and the Monarch asks the boy to solicit a tour of the TARDIS from the Doctor. However, he detains the skeptical Nyssa and allows Enlightenment to hypnotize her. Meanwhile, the Doctor, upon learning that the Monarch also has plans to meddle in time through superluminal travel, accompanies Bigon on a fact-finding mission, leaving Tegan behind in the quarters. She has an altercation with Adric before leaving the room and heading for the TARDIS, hell-bent on attempting to escape.

Yeah, she’s getting annoying too.

The Doctor and Bigon find Nyssa in one of the processing chambers, which download a subject’s consciousness before turning them into fertilizer for the greenhouse. Luckily, they rescue her, but at the cost of an informant reaching the Monarch with news of Bigon’s treachery. As the Doctor and Bigon plot, Adric and Persuasion arrive simultaneously, the latter ordering the Doctor’s execution and an effective lobotomy for Bigon. Nyssa saves the Time Lord by shorting out the slavery discs with the sonic screwdriver and a pencil, and as Adric rejects the Monarch, Persuasion takes the Doctor, Nyssa, and Adric to the throne room. There, the Doctor is ordered to stop interfering, and the Monarch takes Nyssa hostage.

Back in the TARDIS, a panicked Tegan attempts to pilot the craft away but only gets as far as the space near the ship, effectively removing the escape route. Meanwhile, under the cover of the cultural celebration, the Doctor finally sets Adric straight and explains the Monarch’s plan. The pair spark a revolution with the help of the sentient androids, a freed Nyssa, and a newly restored Bigon. As they plan is put in motion, the Doctor attempts to retrieve the TARDIS, but his plan is stalled by Persuasion. The Doctor saves Adric from Persuasion by tearing out the android’s circuit board and tossing it into space. Enlightenment also tries stopping the Doctor, but Adric stops her in the same manner. The Doctor uses a cricket ball to propel himself to the TARDIS, which he then pilots back onto the ship. The Monarch strikes back, trying to kill the travelers by shutting down life support, by they survive with the space-packs and shipboard pressure helmets.

The team head for the TARDIS but are intercepted by the Monarch. The Doctor splashes the Urbankan with the same compound that was planned for the human race, causing the Monarch to miniaturize because (conveniently) he had never been fully converted into an android. Before the travelers depart, the Doctor also reveals that the Monarch’s time travel plan was fatally flawed, and the humanoid androids decide to take the ship to a new world and establish new lives.

With everything said and done, the TARDIS dematerializes and heads for Heathrow. En route, Nyssa collapses, setting up a plot point for the next story in a way that we haven’t seen since the First Doctor .

Thus ends a paint by numbers adventure. There were a few interesting twists in the story, but it felt haphazard as if the writers were tossing everything at the wall to see if it would stick. After the last few adventures of being strong and independent, Tegan is poorly characterized in this one as selfish and “hysterical.” As much as I despise using that term to describe any woman, it fits this story’s portrayal of Tegan: Her fear and panic over what she sees as unnatural combined with her impatience toward getting home, and that led her to snap at the Doctor, make rash decisions about trying to pilot the TARDIS, and (inadvertently?) knock Adric on his tuchus. Her overwhelming emotions are driving her to lose control, and it’s way out of character from what was established in Logopolis.

In a similar vein, Nyssa and Adric were also poorly treated. Nyssa was effectively a prop and Adric has become a chore to watch. His lucky-can-do-no-wrong character has plummeted into the abyss of cockiness and arrogance, and his blatant chauvinism isn’t helping any. Of the three, Nyssa’s my favorite, but she needs more than to be the hot potato.

Sadly, this was an average story, but the characters (both in portrayal and writing) dragged it down. If I was the Doctor at this point, I’d jettison the writing staff, deposit both Tegan and Adric somewhere, and take Nyssa on an awesome adventure. Because frankly, she’s the only one of the companions who isn’t outright irritating me.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Kinda

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #117: Castrovalva

Doctor Who: Castrovalva
(4 episodes, s19e01-e04, 1982)

Timestamp 117 Castrovalva

A new season, a new Doctor, but first, a recap. Behind the scenes, it had been a year since Logopolis, so we get a quick review of the Fourth Doctor’s final moments before it’s off to the races.

The companions try to get the new Doctor back to the TARDIS, but they are captured by guards at the Pharos Project. The Doctor is loaded into an ambulance as the companions are frisked, but Tegan and Nyssa steal the ambulance and escort the Time Lord to the TARDIS.

The Master arrives in his TARDIS, stuns the guards, and leaves Adric in a suspicious state. The ladies get Adric to the Doctor’s TARDIS where the boy pilots the craft away without even a word of thanks. Upon hearing Tegan and Nyssa talk about the Doctor’s quest to reach the Zero Room, Adric follows the Time Lord and finds him playing Theseus with his scarf and clothing. The Doctor is cycling through his previous incarnations and companions. Something appears to be wrong with the regeneration.

But why? Is it because the Fourth Doctor did whatever it was with the Watcher? Or was it the traumatic nature of his demise?

Actually, I blame the Time Lords. The first regeneration went perfectly fine with just a little bit of recuperation afterward. After they forced the Second Doctor’s regeneration, every one since has been dicey.

Tegan and Nyssa discover a “TARDIS Information System” and try to control the craft. When they discover that their flight is pre-programmed and that they cannot crash, they enter the TARDIS corridors and pursue the others.

As Adric wanders off on his own, the Doctor stumbles across a mirror, tries on a recorder for size, and finally discovers his new uniform. This incarnation fancies cricket. Upon hearing the Zero Room door cycle, he rushes off and finds Tegan and Nyssa. Together, they find the Zero Room, a place completely isolated from the universe where the Doctor’s brain can heal without interference. As he drifts into a healing trance, he explains each companion’s role as he heals: Tegan is the party’s coordinator, Nyssa is the technical expert, and Adric (with his badge for mathematical excellence) is the navigator who will help bridge the disconnect between the new Doctor and the old.

Adric appears to them and reveals that the Master has set a trap with him as the bait. The real Adric is… somewhere (I presume the Master’s TARDIS), and the one on their TARDIS is a projection. Nyssa heads for the Console Room, noting a rising temperature in the corridors. The Cloister Bell sounds and the Doctor tries to leave the Zero Room but he collapses. Tegan returns him to the room before joining Nyssa, and together they discover that the Master has set their course for the Big Bang. The Doctor arrives, but is thrown to the deck in the turbulence. A convenient roundel opens, emptying a first aid kit onto the Doctor, and an automated wheelchair arrives – both of which presumably acts of the TARDIS to help her companion – and the Doctor finishes his journey to the Console Room. With his companions, along with an adrenaline boost from the emergency at hand, he helps save the craft by reconfiguring the TARDIS interior to generate thrust.

The trouble is that he lapses back into a coma before explaining how to select which rooms to delete.

As the TARDIS flies closer and closer toward destruction, the companions delete a quarter of the interior at random and they are saved. On the Master’s TARDIS, Adric tries to conceal their victory, but the Master is able to burn through the boy’s mental blocks.

The downside to the companions’ solution is that the Zero Room was among the jettisoned spaces. The companions find a suitable substitute with Castrovalva, where Tegan (crash) lands the TARDIS on its side in the nearby forest. Nyssa helps the Doctor construct a Zero Cabinet and, after changing into a more functional wardrobe, joins Tegan in carrying the Doctor into the wilds of the planet.

Along the way, they lose the wheelchair and Nyssa’s ion bonder, forcing them to carry the Cabinet by hand. Unbeknownst to the ladies, they are being watched from the nearby brush. Tegan spots the castle of Castrovalva and the companions attempt to seek help. When they return to the Zero Cabinet, they find it empty with a small pool of blood nearby.

The companions track the blood trails but are soon ambushed by the warriors who were pursuing them earlier. They spot the Doctor, who is also following the blood trail, but he doesn’t recognize his name. The Doctor is taken captive by one set of warriors while another retrieves the Zero Cabinet, but once inside the walls of Castrovalva, they are revealed as middle-aged intellectual hunters rather than warriors, led by a librarian named Shardovan. The blood trail was from a wild pig, the night’s main course. The Doctor is counseled by an elder named Portreeve, and is offered a meal, a tonic, and a place to sleep.

The companions scale the rocks to Castrovalva, taking the long way around, and are shown the Doctor before being seen to their own quarters. Meanwhile, as the Doctor sleeps, Adric emerges from the shadows and skulks about.

Come the morning, Nyssa directs the locals to take the Zero Cabinet to the Doctor’s quarters. There, she finds a projection of Adric who directs her to keep the Doctor in Castrovalva until his regeneration is completed. The image breaks up, and the Master is satisfied that his machinations will proceed uninterrupted.

Tegan and Nyssa are shown to the library to research telebiogenesis while Portreeve shows the Doctor important events since the Time Lord’s arrival. During the display, the Doctor realizes that he’s missing a companion, but he can’t remember who it was. A delightful young girl helps jog his memory, and the Doctor demands the story from Nyssa and Tegan. The Doctor tries to leave the town, but finds that he cannot as the space is folding in around itself. It’s a space-time trap, which is forcing the Doctor into a relapse, and someone has taken the Zero Cabinet.

The Doctor remains in his quarters while the companions search for the Cabinet. He finds a clue in a book and asks for more. He also asks the town doctor, Mergreave, to the describe the geography of Castrovalva, but is dismayed when the doctor locates his own pharmacy in four distinct locations within the town map. He tests another townsman and gets the same result, and coupled with the fact that the books appear to be forgeries, he determines that Shardovan is behind the events.

The companions find the Zero Cabinet, deliberately hidden by the townsfolk, and return it to the Doctor. He climbs inside and asks to be carried to the Portreeve, enlisting the assembled townsfolk. At one point, Shardovan is drawn away and confronted by none other than the Doctor about the nature of the civilization. The Zero Cabinet arrives in the Portreeve’s chambers, and it is revealed to be filled with the stacks of books by the elder, who is really the Master in disguise. Castrovalva is nothing more than a fiction entered in the TARDIS database by the evil Time Lord.

The Doctor and Shardovan sneak in through a back way and convince the other town leaders to help stop the Master. He pulls aside the tapestry to reveal that Adric wasn’t being held on the Master’s TARDIS but in Castrovalva itself all along. Shardovan sacrifices himself to free Adric, and the Master escapes into the fireplace, which is his TARDIS. Everyone tries to escape the space-time trap, but only Adric can see the way out since his mind created it. The Master, also unable to leave, tries to force his way out but is stopped by the townspeople as Castrovalva collapses in upon itself.

The Master defeated himself.

The Doctor and his companions return to the TARDIS, and with the revelation that the instructions Tegan used to pilot the craft were also a fabrication, they climb aboard and set sail.

Wait. What? The “TARDIS Information System” was a fabrication? So, how did the Master conclude that the Doctor wouldn’t finish configuration dump of the TARDIS and not delete the Zero Room?

The rest of the Master’s plan makes sense to me except for that one point.

As for the rest, I’m not totally sold on this Doctor. The story was okay, but nothing special, and I’m glad that the companions were able to carry the plot while the Doctor finished baking. Well, they carried it to a degree; Tegan and Nyssa were instrumental in saving the day and the Doctor, but the whole story was in exchange for effectively fridging Adric (and his badge for mathematical excellence) for the entire story.

Without the +1 bonus for a regeneration episode, this would be nothing more than an average story.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.